Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Luna Invictus, or the Ventriloquy of Caroline Tully

Recently, a student of Archaeology*--one Caroline Tully--published a, perhaps well-intentioned, opinion piece in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies under the antagonistic title of "Researching the Past is a Foreign Land: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans as a Response to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions", for which she was interviewed during the inaugural podcast of The Wild Hunt Blog!  The constructively heated debate that ensued seems to have compelled Jason to close the comments section entirely, afterward.  That being said, I would like to take some time to unleash my own hounds in response to this matter of Tully's problematic article.  First of all, however, as a so-called Pagan Journalist, Jason's commentary and questions were exceedingly one-sided and could have been far more penetrating; rather than merely accepting her criticisms of contemporary Pagans as lowly non-scholars.  In fact, he had a journalistic duty to test her mettle by probing her article and her responses far deeper than he allowed himself to do.  Imagine, for the moment, that she were a Christian writing of ancient Christianity in an interview with Mancow Muller (an avowed Christian himself who once studied to be a pastor), he would have grilled her for her obstinacy! 

As a Pagan who makes extensive and almost exclusive use of scholarly texts, as well as primary source-material and specialized journal articles (some of which are seldom cited even in the academic community) in my own historical writings in order to draw my own conclusions based upon the evidence at hand I found her polemicized opinion to be utterly condescending and grossly patronizing!  The essence of her piece is that Pagans must be schooled and talked down to by real academics so that we might never again question the established authority of Academic Orthodoxy, which is apparently for our own good, as Tully would have us believe.  This is a gross Logical Fallacy known as the "Appeal to Authority", and it must not be endorsed under any circumstances or else we risk turning academia into a religion of another nature!  Ultimately she seems to believe that Pagans are unworthy of academia, and that we cannot be trusted with it; that we are innately unable to grasp it.  The hinge-pin around which her insistence revolves is Ben Whitmore's brave and very well researched book, The Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft, of which she emphatically declared:
"Pagans who dislike British historian Ronald Hutton's book, Triumph of the Moon have participated in an internet smear campaign against him, motivated by [Ben] Whitmore's attempted criticisms of Hutton's book."
It seems to have escaped Tully that there might be the slightest justifiable cause for doubting the work and even the methods of Prof. Hutton's research before Whitmore's book came along.  But, even so, Whitmore had spent several years checking Hutton's resources in an effort to check his facts, however, what every academic and--consequential--negative review of his work seems to ignore is Hutton's own blatant academic impropriety.  One of the pivots around which Hutton's polemic revolved in order to forever divorce and seamlessly cut away any threads tying contemporary Witchcraft to antique paganism was the notion that the worship of the pagan gods might have survived the sloppy Christianization of Europe and even the Roman Empire!  Several academic works have commented upon this period, which Hutton has tried excessively hard to deny throughout his writings (with particular respect to Prof. Carlo Ginzburg):
  • A History of Pagan Europe, by Nigel Pennick and Prudence Jones: an academic book that Hutton has never cited, albeit he's read it!  It is far better than Hutton's own Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles principally because they include much of the historical data that Hutton seems to have omitted without good cause in his own zealous extremism throughout his polemics.
  • The Pagan Middle Ages, ed. by Ludo J. R. Milis: though I found it utterly shameful that Hutton would misrepresent this book's position as though it does not, in fact, advocate and provide evidence for paganism within the medieval epoch as a pretense utterly denouncing that position in his more recent book, Witches, Druids, and King Arthur!
  • Between the Living and the Dead, by Prof. Eva Pocs: provides evidence that shamanism was, in fact, extent, throughout the medieval witch craze.
  • The Survival of the Pagan Gods, by Jean Seznec: I was particularly struck by how he showed physical evidence that Renaissance people viewed Apollo as "God", among many numerous examples.
  • Early European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, by Profs. Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen: these authors, like the brunt of European scholars, have adopted the position of the survival and dissemination of shamanism and pagan worship throughout the Middle Ages.
  • The Mirror of the Gods, by Malcom Bull: another like Seznec's text.
  • Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100-400, by Prof. Ramsey Macmullen: Shows that the pagans from late antiquity would have had to have had an exceptionally simple belief-system to have succumbed to the attempted Christianization by early missionaries.  We, however, know that the opposite was true; that the pagan communities had a very sophisticated religious system.  Moreover, Macmullen shows that the pagan communities who were undergoing "conversion"--even forcibly--may not have realized that this was what was intended as a consequence of the Christians' ritual gestures.
  • Hellenism in Late Antiquity, by Prof. G. W. Bowersock: I was particularly saddened to discover, upon reading this book, which Prof. Hutton also extensively cites throughout his Withes, Druids, and King Arthur that, it was grossly misrepresented by Hutton.  Accordingly (pp. 137), he [Hutton] insists that paganism throughout the Mediterranean was completely and quickly extirpated from the world on a cultural level before the onset of the sixth-century.  However, in the premiere chapter of Bowersock's text, the only chapter that Hutton has refrained from even casually citing, Prof. Bowersock evidentially proves that Mediterranean paganism survived well into the seventh-century, but furthermore, at this era, it was not yet on the wane!  This is another known Logical Fallacy called "the Sin of Omission" or "confirmation bias" of which Hutton has been variously guilty of throughout his academic career, dating at least to The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles.
  • Indo-European Poetry and Myth, by Prof. M.L. West: shows that paganism survived in folk-lore and even popular culture, another belief that Prof. Hutton routinely rejects out of principle in Triumph.
  • Deciphering the Witches Sabbath and The Night Battle, both by Microhistorian, Prof. Carlo Ginzburg: Hutton and his Pagan acolytes have really gone at extremes to not only mitigate the importance of Ginzburg's findings, but also to misrepresent the data that he has found by insisting that there are no shamanic substratum to be found within this material.  I am reminded of Gardnerian HPs, Deborah Lipp, who has publicly denounced Ginzburg's material in favor of Hutton's polemic in an effort to appear more historically respectable as an American Pagan lest she be deemed a "Murrayite".
  • Cunningfolk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic, by Dr. Emma Wilby
  • Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion, by Prof. Philippe Walter
  • Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Double in the Middle Ages, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, by Prof. Claude Lecouteux
  • The Witch Figure, ed. by Venetia Newall: contains a fabulous article by Dr. Carmen Blacker regarding the endemic shamanism centered around the witch's Familiar in Japanese witchcraft which she has dated back several thousand years.  Her examples come very close to intimating those from the European witch trials.
The following excerpt from Whitmore's text illustrates quite succinctly the problems we are dealing with in terms of misrepresentation found within Hutton's texts, problems that Tully seems to dismiss as non-exsistant:
"Hutton next rallies together the combined clout of seven prominent witchcraft historians of the 1970s — E. William Monter, Bengt Ankarloo, H. C. Erik Midelfort, Alan Macfarlane, Gerhard Schormann, Bente G. Alver and Robert Muchembled — who he says have ‘left no doubt that the people tried for witchcraft in Early Modern Europe were not practitioners of a surviving pagan religion’. Let’s examine what each of them actually say:
"E. William Monter, for a start, maintains that many ‘witches’ held beliefs firmly rooted in pre-Christian paganism. He suggests that the ‘coloured devils’ of the French woods were originally pagan deities, for instance, and that the obscure local saints to whose shrines white witches sent invalids on curative pilgrimages ‘were often local pagan deities with a Christian veneer.’  Is this not a description of vestigial pagan religion?
"The second of this group of authors, Bengt Ankarloo (I have not read his book in Swedish, but rather, later essays in English), distances himself from ‘the dogma of learned origins’ — the theory that witchcraft testimonies were shaped by learned theologians and interrogators through cultural infiltration of their ideas and leading questioning, and that it is useless to look for popular origins. Rather, he accepts the theory of Ginzburg, Gustav Henningsen and Gábor Klaniczay that a ‘pre-Christian, shamanistic substratum’ existed in many parts of Europe and contributed to beliefs surrounding the witches’ sabbath.
"American historian H. C. Erik Midelfort charts at some length how witchcraft beliefs developed out of pre-Christian paganism (for instance, the theme of riding out at night on the backs of animals in the company of Diana, described as a ‘pagan error’ in the ninth-century canon Episcopi Eorumque, turning into riding in the company of the devil by the fourteenth century), as well as from anti-pagan ideas of diabolical power and satanic pact that started forming from Christianity’s first arrival in Europe. He highlights the ‘superstitious magical beliefs and practices [that] were common among both village and city folk’, but doubts whether these ever culminated in organized group ritual.
"Alan Macfarlane, though not actively contradicting Hutton’s assertion, doesn’t support it either. In his introduction he dismisses Murray’s organized underground pagan cult as ‘too sophisticated and articulate for the society with which we are concerned [Essex]’, though he agrees with her that accusations should be treated as ‘something more than intolerant superstitions’. Beyond this, his interest is in the mechanics of societal persecution, not the actual beliefs of the accused, whose philosophical and religious outlook he makes no attempt to discover. As he explains it, ‘This study is mainly concerned with showing how witchcraft functioned, once the basic assumptions about the nature of evil, the types of causation, and origins of supernatural “power” were present.’
"Gerhard Schormann, on the other hand, affirms that surviving ancient forms of worship could at times be prosecuted under charges of witchcraft. Likewise, he cites a number of German trials in which folk-magic was denounced as witchcraft. In general, though, Schormann regards ‘witchcraft’ as an imaginary offense, with its most characteristic elements — the pact, the Sabbath, sexual intercourse with demons and so on — being inventions of the late Middle Ages.
"Bente Alver and Robert Muchembled were difficult for me to check directly, as my understanding of Norwegian and French is rudimentary, and the books cited by Hutton are not available in translation. I have only found a few passages of Bente Alver in English translation, but these appear to contradict Hutton’s position that accused witches ‘were not practitioners of a surviving pagan religion’. Read, for example, her account of the witch-trial of a Sami magician, as summarized in a collection of Scandinavian folklore:
The Lapp Quive Baardsen was clearly a specialist in making sailing wind by magic. His services were sought by the community. From the trial transcript, it appears that when his practice resulted in the death of some of his clients, however, he was legally held responsible. Quive Baardsen describes how the Lapps used their rune drums to put themselves into trances in which to communicate with the spirit world. In the eyes of the court, these practices must have seemed heretical; they were reason enough to condemn the accused to death.
"With Muchembled I have relied on a later essay in English, and he, for once, seems partially in agreement with Hutton, holding that the elements of popular culture and social reality that fed into witchcraft stereotypes ‘have nothing to do with any organized non-Christian cult, even of a residual or mythic kind.’ (Note, though: he only discounts organized forms of cult.) As Ankarloo and his colleague Gustav Henningsen summarise him, Muchembled is
…in line with the position of the seventies, when he regards the sabbath as ‘simply and solely a figment created by theologians, whose ideas governed the imagination of the élite classes of Europe in the late Middle Ages’. But he parts with the dogma of learned origins when he states that the demonologists’ description of the sabbath ‘was a diabolized version of practices, customs and beliefs which really existed among peasant folk ... with the difference that every one of its features is given a negative coefficient’
"So, while not affording these folk practices the status of an organized cult or religion, Muchembled at least affirms their existence and the antipathy of theologians towards them. As examples of such practices, customs and beliefs, he describes the night-time revelries of inhabitants of Artois and Flanders, which involved fights between armed youths and wild dancing in isolated spots in the wee small hours. He also describes popular superstitions and spells such as the lists of ‘mighty names’ that soldiers carried for protection.
"The major achievement of these seven authors of the 1970s was not in establishing that accused witches were not pagans; rather, it was in demonstrating how a number of societal factors converged in the Early Modern Age in different parts of Europe to precipitate moral panic and full-blown hunts. That a conflict between Christian and pre-Christian belief systems may have been one of these factors is in no way precluded; on the contrary, it is specifically stated by several of these authors, as we have seen" (pp. 6-9).
Prof. Hutton, in his own response to this book published in The Pomegranate under the title of "Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View" denounces Whitmore's criticisms whole cloth as merely catching him in "minor errors".  So, a major thread of an argument one is using to weave a tapestry of history is simply a "minor" issue not worthy of notice or further debate?  Tully rushed to Hutton's defense as a dutiful student of history, bellowing from her ivory tower as she insisted, through her Wild Hunt interview, that if Hutton had, indeed, committed any academic improprieties (and it is clear she refuses to believe that he has) than he would have been censured by his peers in what would amount to an academic bitch-slapping, rather directly implying that academia is an omniscient--all-knowing--entity.  However,  Tully fails to recall that the Triumph of the Moon evinces a gap, in this regard, because its author has variously admitted what "a lonely book" it was to write because his colleagues distanced themselves from directly supporting his efforts; a fact that he hinted at when penning the preface for this text:
"...my own colleagues treated my work with detachment and myself with continued affability..." (pp. xii) [emphasis mine].
How, then, can specialist scholars with no interest in a respective field censure a particular scholar for impropriety unless an outside individual otherwise brings it to their attention.  What Tully also seems to have glossed over in her rushed defense is that if Hutton's works are as infallible as she insists, then they should easily withstand any criticism levied at them, and that his main positions ought to be unaffected despite any academic impropriety, which seems, at this point, somewhat hard to imagine.  Indeed, if academia is as innately omniscient as she suggests, than why has academia largely allowed the late professor Norman Cohn to illegitimately discredit Margaret Murray in his obsolete text, Europe's Inner Demons, by declaring that she omitted valuable source-material that would have, were it allegedly included, rendered her thesis entirely untenable?  However, it has been unequivocally found that Murray did, in fact, include these texts, considering them in great detail.  Ronald Hutton later unequivocally relied upon Cohn's mendacious treatment of Murray to further damage her reputation throughout his texts.  But, when it was pointed out to him that Cohn was utterly mendacious with his treatment of Murray by an investigative freelance journalist who was once called before the United States Congress to testify, Hutton's response was two-fold: 1.) the matter was entirely insignificant (which seems to imply that lying to discredit an author is academically permissible), 2.) and cowardly when he sheepishly remarked that "Cohn may have been unjust to Murray" [emphasis mine], thereby leaving some room for apparent "doubt".  This example merely serves to illustrate that academia cannot always be trusted to police its own.  Interestingly enough, the so-called "academic" reviews of Whitmore's investigation have also dismissed even the allegation of Hutton's improprieties as utterly insignificant.  Ultimately, if there is any "internet smear campaign" against anyone, it has been directed against Ben Whitmore who has been the victim of a mendacious assault by the likes of Peg Aloi on her Blog wherein she grossly misrepresented Whitmore's findings and positions.  And, when Whitmore publicly rebuked her for her behavior on Chas Clifton's own blog, she had the audacity to insist that she had done nothing academically improper, as if lying about someone is professionally permissible!  Honestly, if I pulled half of these misdeeds to one in the Pagan community I would have not one shred of credibility to speak of, yet seemingly Pagans are more than willing to give professional scholars a Free Pass!  The double-standard is, wrenchingly, palpable.

On the other hand, however, I do sincerely sympathize with Tully in that Pagans, as a whole, require better access to academic material which may often be out of their reach for any number of reasons.  I have experienced, first hand, the vicious reactions of my own Pagan brothers and sisters for allegedly challenging their core beliefs and values due to a lack of specialist knowledge on their behalf concerning the subject of The Morrighan and, generally, Celtic Studies.  This does not mean, as Tully insists, that we must have any sort of a third party to regurgitate pre-digested and pre-approved material in order to spoon feed us history that we are thought to be ill-equipped to deal with or reconcile "for our own good"!  The problem seems to be, rather, an academic community that doesn't seem to respect the intelligence of the communities it is either writing about, or writing for, nor the fact that we might be just as aware as they of those texts they might be citing, evidence that they are unaware of or even omitting, or the historical period that they are writing of.  Tully must remember and take to heart, even though she is clearly cloistered in an ivory tower of her own making, what Margot Adler so succinctly wrote many years ago in Drawing Down the Moon (it's as true now as it was then), "Pagans are avid readers, scholars without degrees".

*Nota Bene: Another quibble that I have, in general, is that during her interview with Jason on The Wild Hunt podcast Tully seems to insist that the field of Archaeology is a perfect science interested only in the dates of artifacts that otherwise divorces them from the cultures out of which they arose!


  1. I think you have completely misunderstood my Pomegranate article. My article is about how Pagan Studies scholars and Pagans can better communicate with each other, not about how Pagans should listen to and obey academics. I don't really see where you got that idea from.

  2. Shouldn't it be "Luna Invicta"? Personally, I think Caroline Tully and Ronald Hutton have both written two of the most intelligent pieces I have seen on the subject: While not true of all, it IS true that the vast majority of neo-pagans base their views more on wishful thinking than actual history, to put it simply. Of course it is not everyone, but the whole movement is rife with that mentality.